Word Count: ~1580
Characters: Willow, Dawn, flashes of Tara
Prompt: 120: Free for all: Willow Madness
AN: Written last winter for whichwillow. Set during “Two to Go” with lines of dialogue from that ep by Doug Petrie. Thanks to my fab beta, firefly124.
Dawn yells, “I miss Tara too!”
The name rings through the room, through Willow, striking her like a gong so that echoes shatter through her, ripping memories from their place to hover before her like a taunt.
Looking up through her lashes, Tara smiled at Willow from across the room. Sex and heat and love broiled beneath the curve of her lips, calling Willow to her, ever to her, shyness-encased seduction.
Dawn’s face wavers briefly in Willow’s sight, mouth open, but Willow hears none of it, goes under again, scenes flashing before her, whirlwind fast, vivid and bright.
Tara stood by the dresser, holding a photo frame in her hand that she stared at intently.
Willow walked up and slid her arms around her, peeking over her shoulder at the picture of the two of them bracketing a younger Dawn. They all held dripping ice cream cones and smiled squintingly into bright sunlight, laughter flashing across their faces.
“It’s weird, you know?” Tara said.
“This.” She set the photo back on the dresser and waved her hand towards it. “This was that first spring after we met. We took Dawn to the park to watch the Middle School Dance-Off Competition. Remember how she ate too much ice cream and jumped around a lot and said she’d be up there dancing in a few years?”
“So it never happened, or … or … it never happened like this. Dawn wasn’t … Dawn yet.”
“You’re right. And that means …” Willow’s voice trailed off as her mind thought of all the time before, all the memories.
After a few moments, Tara asked, “Means what?”
“Hmm?” Willow kissed the side of Tara’s neck before nestling her chin into it. “Well, it’s kinda silly, I guess, but when she was little, Dawn used to think I was really cool. And you should have seen me back then, no magic, no … well, she was pretty much the only one.”
“But Buffy and Xander were your friends then.”
“And they were great, but … it’s not the same.”
Tara turned in her arms. “What if I think you’re cool?”
“Then I’m one lucky woman.” Willow grinned as Tara leaned in to kiss her, hot and trembling and soft.
“You miss her?” Accusation hangs heavy in her thoughts, her voice. How can this not-real girl, this thing, claim that? How can it claim anything at all?
Red flashes sharp, soon overtaken by black.
“Willow. Willow. Willow. Willow’s the best, Willow!” a little Dawn sang, laughing and hanging off of Willow’s hands as they bounced around the living room to some teeny-bob pop that’s all percussive beat, beat, beat.
“Did you cry?”
Dawn’s face pales, eyes widening, lips trembling.
“Of course you did. I get that.”
Willow climbed the porch steps of 1630 Rivello Drive.
Sputtering cries came to her from the corner, slowing for a moment, only to start again like a crotchety engine. A small bundle in spring green uncoiled slowly into gangly limbs.
“Dawnie, sweety, what is it?” Willow asked, starting forward.
“Buh … buh … buh …” She held out a red raw elbow. “I was … buh … riding my new bike … buh … and Justin pushed me.” Fresh tears emerged with more sobs.
“Buh … she left to see Giles.”
“Well, it must have been something important. Do you have your key?”
“Let’s go in and get you cleaned up, all right?”
Dawn clung to her throughout the entire process, remaining pressed tightly to her side on the couch even when Buffy came home, complaining of Faith and the Mayor and little sisters who didn’t stay inside like they were supposed to.
“I understand the crying. You cry because you’re human … but you weren't always.”
The not-real girl actually sounds hurt. “Yes, I was.”
Giggles and bubblegum and sunshine on pink sparkly nail polish.
Her pain shivers across Willow, raising bolts of irritation that spark and burn, hot.
Thump, thump, thump in her ear. Why can she still hear her heart beat? Tara’s stopped, silenced.
“No, please. You’re telling me you don't remember? You used to be some ... mystic ball of energy. Maybe that’s why you're crying all the time, Dawnie. ‘Cause you don't belong here.”
Willow looked up from the computer as their voices rose.
“You simply must practice with the … er … thing, Buffy.” Giles glanced towards where Dawn sat at the library table, his hands miming a crossbow. “You have a fair amount of natural ability, but it needs to be honed.”
“Alright, but where? Here won’t work.” She tipped her head towards Dawn.
“We could go to Harper’s Glade.”
“Again with the how? Mom’s got that gallery thingy all week, so I can’t leave Dawn alone, and taking her kinda … you know.” She shrugged.
“Right … well.” He raised one hand to rub at the back of his neck.
Willow glanced over at Dawn, whose tongue stuck out to one side as her pencil moved slowly to fill in another digit on a long-division problem.
“I’ll watch her,” Willow said.
“Will, are you sure? It’ll only be for …” Buffy looked at Giles.
“An hour or so,” he finished. “And then I can give you all a lift home to make up for the inconvenience.”
“It’s not an inconvenience, is it, Dawnie?” Willow asked.
Dawn looked up at her and smiled, shaking her head. “I’d rather stay with Willow anyway.”
“Okay, great! Thanks.” Buffy practically ran out the door, Giles following, and Willow almost laughed – who knew that having to baby-sit Dawn three days in a row would make Buffy actually want to train instead?
“How you doing there?”
With a sigh, the young girl put down her pencil. “I’m okay if I’m dividing by something easy, like five. But this problem uses thirteen, and thirteen always gets me.”
“That is a hard one. Do you want to go over it together a few times?”
“Really? That’d be great!” Smiling at first, her enthusiasm quickly dimmed, and she bowed her head and poked at her papers with her pencil. “I mean, if you want to and all. I know this math stuff can be kind of boring.”
“Boring? Math? Who’ve you been talking to, kiddo? Math is amazing.”
Dawn’s smile returned, huge and brilliant with joy. “I think so too! Buffy doesn’t like it, but I do.”
“Well, Xander doesn’t like it much either, but that’s okay – it can be just us.” Willow walked around the table to settle into the chair next to the younger girl. “Okey dokey, let’s tackle those thirteens.”
Dawn giggled and looked at her with adoring eyes.
Those same eyes now back away. Haunted. Haunting.
False memory follows false memory, reminding Willow of what she never had.
What she doesn’t have.
Tara laughing, low and long, as Willow trailed her hair across Tara’s bare stomach.
“Wanna go back, end the pain? You’ll be happier. I’ll be happier.” Her voice hardens. “We’ll all be a lot happier without listening to the constant whining.”
“Willow, stop …” Green light pulses off of Dawn, vital, offensive.
Ending. Dark and deep and endless.
“… but it wasn’t!” Willow watched her friends expectantly.
Buffy and Xander shared a look and a grin, a grin that had more to do with humoring her than humor.
Willow kept smiling. Her mother once gave her a pamphlet that talked about fitting in and humor and how friends don’t always find the same things funny.
But a muffled giggle came from the right, and Willow glanced over to see a small face peering at her from around the doorway.
“Dawn!” Buffy said, huffing, “you’re not supposed to be up this late.”
“But I wanted to meet your friends.” The young girl stepped fully into the kitchen, twisting the bottom hem of her neon-green pajama top in excitement.
“Fine. That’s Xander and that’s Willow.” Buffy pointed to each of them in turn. “Now go to bed.”
Ignoring her sister completely, Dawn waved at Xander with a hi and moved to stand in front of Willow. Big blue eyes gazed up at her. “You’re funny.”
“Thanks.” Willow’s smile no longer feels forced.
“Dawn …” Buffy drew out the name in a warning tone.
“Okay, okay.” She turned, sticking her tongue out at Buffy before disappearing through the dining room.
Willow didn’t tell Buffy that those big eyes returned to watch them five minutes later, but she threw a wink Dawn’s way whenever she got the chance, smiling at the little squeaks that emerged each time.
In an artificial whine, Willow says, “‘Mom!’ ‘Buffy!’ ‘Tara!’ ‘Waaah!’” Her voice returns to coldness, its ice soothing her rough nerves, burning them to numbness. “It’s time you go back to being a little energy ball.”
Dawn looks at her, fear widening her eyes.
Big eyes. Big eyes looking up at Willow in adoration.
Lies built upon lies. It disgusts her.
The breath whooshing through her lungs disgusts her. Pulse, pulse, pulse. Tara unmoving in her arms.
To be unmoving, unmoved.
“I love you, Willow.” Tara smiled pure joy.
“No more tears, Dawnie.” Willow’s voice emerges, a reverberating call of power, of hard reality, cold and terrifying.
She will remove this life, this lie that only echoes lost truth.
It shines such a bright green.
No breath. Tara had no breath.
Make it black.